Want worse congestion? Vote for Initiative 985

Initiative huckster Tim Eyman is pitching this year’s offering, I-985, as a message to the Legislature to implement state Auditor Brian Sonntag’s performance audits.

Eyman’s message is at odds with itself. I-985, which Eyman calls his “Reduce Traffic Congestion Initiative,” barely resembles the transportation audit Sonntag’s office hired contractors to perform. And in a key and fatal section, the opening of carpool and bus lanes to all traffic during ill-defined “nonpeak” hours, I-985 threatens to do the improbable: make congestion worse throughout Puget Sound.

We have supported some of Eyman’s initiatives in the past, including the one that mandated performance audits. But this time, Eyman and his cohorts have laid an egg, one we strongly urge voters to reject.

Only two of Eyman’s ideas in I-985, synchronizing traffic lights and clearing disabled vehicles more efficiently, were recommended by the state performance audit. They’re both good ideas, but what about the audit’s 20 other recommendations, none of which are in I-985? This isn’t about getting the Legislature to heed an audit, it’s an effort implement its supporters own ideas.

In fact, opening HOV lanes to all traffic for most of the day flies in the face of some of Sonntag’s recommendations. His audit calls for completing the region’s HOV network, not for opening it to single-occupancy vehicles, and for the addition of high occupancy/toll lanes if a pilot project in Kent proves successful. Sonntag understands what traffic engineers know to be true: that HOV lanes ease congestion by encouraging commuters to take a bus, vanpool or carpool, reducing the number of vehicles on the road.

I-985 would open such lanes to all traffic outside of 6-9 a.m. and 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Anyone who has been on I-5 through Everett or I-405 through Bothell lately knows that definition of “peak hours” is from an age long gone. And as more commuters opt for buses because of high gas prices and concern over carbon emissions, it would be decidedly poor public policy to gum up the lane that ensures their timely and efficient operation.

Other provisions of I-985, like requiring that tolls collected for a project not be diverted to another, putting surpluses from red-light camera fines toward congestion relief and investing in more emergency roadside assistance, are at least worth debating. But undermining the effectiveness of HOV lanes — a congestion-relief policy that is actually working — is enough reason to send I-985 back where it came from.

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